Monday, October 1, 2012

Prickly Pear Jelly!

OK cowboys and cowgirls... Here's one for you brave souls out there! We're talkin' high adventure in cookin' here. Yep! Prickly Pear Jelly.

At first I figured this recipe wouldn't work for you folks back east, but according to good ol' Wikipedia you can find prickly pear cactus throughout the Western United States, as well as many parts of the northwest, northeast, Great Plains, heck they even can be found in New England, wherever the heck that might be! Here's a link for you, if you want to read all about this cactus.

Here's what it looks like out in the Wild West!

As far as International availability, you can pick prickly pear fruit in the Galapagos Islands, North Africa and down-under in Australia. So I guess you're in luck!

So first things first... get yourself some fruit off of the prickly pear cactus, wherever that takes you. Be careful picking them too, cause they're covered with little tiny stickers, you know... stickers, as in little tiny thorns. They hurt too. I'm not gonna bother to show you pictures of prickly pear pickin', or help you find the cactus. I figure if you really want to make prickly pear jelly, then you'll figure out where to find them and how to pick them. I will give you one piece of advice though... wear gloves and use tongs to pick them (oops, that's two).

I got mine from my bro. He picked them for me near his ranch up by Roosevelt Lake... that's in Arizona. Thanks bro! I'll bring you a jar of jelly.

So you're gonna need sugar, pectin, cheese cloth and of course, prickly pears... the fruit from the prickly pear cactus, also lemon juice, but I forgot to get it in the picture, so I'll show it to you later.

Start by putting on a pair of leather gloves, then rub the pears with a cloth. The tiny clusters of thorns (which appear as white spots here) will rub off easily. I held the fruit over a cardboard box while I rubbed them.

Next I cut the ends off of the fruit, and then sliced them in half.

Here's 20 pears sliced in half in a large stock pot. Next up... water.

It took nine cups of water to cover this amount of fruit.


Bring the water to a boil and let it cook until the fruit is softened and you get all of the juice out of your fruit. This will probably take a good 30 minutes.

Then pour it thru a strainer lined with the cheese cloth. I also put a paper towel between the layers of cheese cloth just to make sure I didn't get any solids or stickers in my strained juice.

Prickly pear juice is plum purdy, aint it?

Remember the lemon juice?

Strain it and pour it into the pear juice.

Add the pectin. I used two packages. Sorry 'bout the blurry pic. I'm still learning.

Sugar goes in next... I used 7 and 1/2 cups.

Then boil and stir... boil and stir boys and girls. When you think you're done, then boil and stir some more. After a while the syrup will begin to run off of your spoon slower as it thickens.

Then pour it in the jars. I forgot to tell you to prepare your jars by either boilin' the heck out of them in a big pot, or do what I do... put 'em in the microwave and nuke them for at least ten minutes to kill all of the bugs and stuff. Then like I said, pour your jelly into the hot jars.

Put the lids on them.

That's prickly pear jelly!

Ummm! It's tangy and sweet!

Here's the recipe, all written out neat and organized for ya!

Prickly Pear Jelly
20 pieces of prickly pear fruit
9 cups of water
7-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup strained lemon juice
2 packages pectin

Clean and slice the prickly pear fruit. Place in a large stock pot and cover with the water. Bring to a boil and continue boiling for about 30 minutes until the fruit is softened. Strain the juice. You should end up with five or six cups of strained juice. Place this in a pot and add lemon juice, stir, then add pectin, stir again, then add sugar. Bring juice to a boil and continue on medium heat until the juice thickens to syrup stage. Test by dripping syrup off of spoon. Pour into sterilized jars, place lids on jars. Listen for jar lids to pop to insure proper seal. Should make about 5 pints. Jelly will continue to set for another day or two.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dutch Oven cooking in Paradise

Well I promised you that I would post some recipes from my camp cooking up North, so I am finally getting around to it.
Before we get to cookin' let me just say what a wonderful time we had with friends and family. We were camped for a week in one of the prettiest places on earth and the weather was just about perfect!

See what I mean?

So our outdoor cookin' dutch-oven (DO) menu today is short ribs, my favorite DO taters and rolls. I call them "choke rolls", because the first time that I made them my father-in-law nearly choked to death when he ate one in too big a hurry! Actually, the roll recipe comes from Pioneer Woman Cooks, but I have adapted it to the dutch oven.

So here we go!

Let's start with a short primer on dutch oven cookin'. In the olden days the camp cook would need to burn hardwood... probably mesquite in the lower parts of Arizona or oak in the higher areas. The wood coals would be used to heat the dutch ovens on top and bottom.

Most dutch oven cooks today use charcoal to heat their ovens. I also use a high capacity burner to light my charcoal because I'm basically an impatient person. I hate having to wait on coals to get hot. This method delivers hot coals in about five minutes.

Here's a dutch oven all loaded up with hot coals on top and bottom. This is how you cook stuff in a DO. Notice that there are two or even three times as many coals on top as on the bottom... remember third grade science class? Heat rises! That's an importat lesson to remember when cookin' in a DO.

Here's what the coals on the bottom look like before you set the DO on top. Notice that the coals are set in sort of a pattern... an outside circle and an inside circle... sorta. That gives you even heat distribution for the bottom of the oven.

We start with the rolls. Sorry to disappoint you bread purists. No dough production in this meal. I skipped all of that and picked up some frozen rolls instead. Just arrange them evenly in the dutch oven... wait a few hours for them to rise and cook 'em. What's not to love? Notice that I have greased the bottom of the dutch oven with Crisco. Just put the lid on them and leave them alone until they rise. We will return to these later.

Here's the brand of rolls that I use. You will find them in the frozen food section at your supermarket.

While the rolls rise we will begin the meat. Here's about fifteen pounds of short ribs.

Here's what they look like after you have seared them in some hot oil in a pan. I browned them in the same dutch oven that they will cook in, then I removed them to this sheet pan.

By the way, you will need a #16 dutch oven to hold this amount of meat. If you are cooking for just a few, obviously you will want to use a smaller pot for less meat. The #16 is the largest size dutch oven that most manufacturers produce. You will find dutch ovens in sporting goods stores and outdoor equipment stores everywhere. The largest and most popular manufacturer of dutch ovens is Lodge.  You can now buy them already seasoned, which saves you a lot of time and effort, not to mention sweat and noxious fumes, since seasoning a dutch oven requires baking it in an oven or in a hot BBQ to burn off all of the wax that coats it from the factory, then wiping oil (I use Crisco) all over the inside and outside, along with the lid, and continuing the baking until a patina is baked onto the surfaces of the oven (and lid).

Anyway, back to cookin'.

After the meat is browned, chop up some onions and carrots.

Dump 'em in the pot with some hot oil.

Till they look kinda like this.
Then add some 'shrooms... mushrooms, ya know?
After browning and stirrin' some more, dump the meat backin and stir it up again. You will notice from this picture that the DO is sittin' on top of the burner during this stage. We are using medium heat, just like you would use on your stove top at home. When we get all of the ingredients in, then we will put the lid on it and pile the coals on top and bottom.
Here's a bunch a stuff that we're gonna add next. Nothing exotic here, pretty basic stuff. That's onion soup & dip mix hidin' behind the beer can.
Here goes! First the onion soup mix, then a can of mushroom soup, then a couple of beers... actually I think I ended up with three in there.
Then a box of beef stock.
Put the lid on it and cook it with coals on top and bottom. We're gonna let that cook for about three hours. Don't worry, we'll check on it in a little while.

Here I am standin' around staring at my pots. That always seems to help the cookin' process.
OK. Let's start the potatoes. First we washed and chopped about a dozen or more taters, then peeled and chopped eight or nine large carrots. Sorry about the blurry pic... only one that I shot.
Then chop three large onions and a couple a bell peppers, use any color that you like.
Now the fun part! Chop up a pound of bacon and fry it in your oven.
Add the onions and bell peppers. By the way, I'm using a #14 oven for the taters.
Now dump the potatoes and carrots in. Did I mention that you need to season the potatoes/carrots? Sorry. I had garlic salt and course ground pepper, so that's what I used. Sometimes I use Cavendar's seasoning mix for this dish, but you can season them with your favorite spices... be bold!
Stir it up with a stick... a wooden paddle or spoon is best. You don't want to scratch your DO with metal utensils. Now add a couple of cans of beer. I like beer... to cook with I mean.
Now put the lid on it and put coals on top and bottom. You're gonna want to take the lid off and stir the taters once in a while.
Notice that I have stacked one DO on top of the udder one here. This saves space, but I wouldn't recommend doing this for too long, since there's lots more coals on the bottom than I would normally use. I was just doing this for a few minutes while I prepared more coals and started melting my butter for the bread roll recipe.
Speakin o' which, here's the rest of the ingredients for the rolls...
Brush the tops of the rolls with butter... lots of butter (notice that they have now risen nicely), then the sea salt, rosemary and thyme. Put a lid on it, fire up the coals again and bake it.
Check the meat. You will want to sorta poke the brown pieces down into the soup and pull the meat off the bottom and let it have a turn up on top where it can get brown too.
Now check the taters... stir em too.
Try not to peek at the rolls too often or they won't ever brown... see what I mean?
It's time to stir some cheese into the potatoes... maybe three or four cups... leave some of it piled up on top... put the lid back on and let her cook some more.

You may need to add some coals to the meat after a couple of hours of cooking time. I also took the lid off of the meat and let it cook for a while with lots of coals on the bottom to reduce the liquid and thicken it.
Meat's done!
Taters too!
Here's the bread. Eat slow so you don't choke!
Time to plate it... sorry I slopped some on the side of the plate but hey, we're camping!
Sorry, but I won't be providing printable recipes for these dishes... that would make the cookin' experience way too tame. This is wild west cookin' folks! Get out there and get to cookin'!